Monday, January 29, 2007

Back To B-Fest 2007

Last weekend marked my sixth consecutive B-Fest, a 24-hour marathon of “B-movies” held annually at Northwestern University’s Norris Center auditorium. As long as you’re able to get into the atmosphere of a couple hundred rowdy movie fans laughing, cheering and shouting jokes at the screen, B-Fest is a fun venue for crappy movie watching. The auditorium is more comfortable than you might expect—certainly more so than Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois, which has perhaps the most painful seating I’ve ever experienced. McCormick Auditorium at Northwestern is carpeted and clean with a large stage, a good-sized screen and fine audio.

Chicken and I drove up to Evanston early Friday afternoon, where we met up with Tolemite, Grady, Stiner and Cheeseburger, making her first B-Fest appearance. Kevin, with whom I saw my first five B-Fests, had to bow out the day before, as did Liz, who came to last year’s B-Fest. Armed with plenty of Red Can, Hostess products, Frito’s, Lunchables, Fig Newtons and plenty of other snacks, I spread out and prepared for 24 straight hours of garbage movies.

This year’s selection was quite good, an admirable blend of genres and eras. A couple of sword-and-sorcery adventures, some giant monsters, a Chuck Norris actioner, a Philippines-set women’s prison potboiler and a wild gore film were among this year’s offerings. Unfortunately, I intermittently fell asleep during the early morning hours, which coincidentally was when all the movies I hadn’t seen before were running. Sad to say, I missed quite a bit of what I wanted to see and had to sit through a couple I wasn’t too fond of.

Kicking off the 2007 festival was 1962’s THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, which you may have seen on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. It’s a sleazy black-and-white thriller starring Jason Evers, a not-particularly-charming leading man who managed to eke out a healthy living on television for a couple of decades. If you watched any TV series about cops, detectives, lawyers or spies during the 1960s or 1970s, you undoubtedly saw Evers in a guest shot. In BRAIN, he plays Dr. Bill Cortner, a slimy mad scientist who rescues his fiancé’s decapitated head from an auto accident and takes it to his remote lab, where he plops it in a pan and keeps it alive. She whines a lot about letting her die until she, unbeknownst to Bill and his crippled assistant Curt, realizes she can mentally control the mutant locked in the closet. Unfortunately, Swank’s 16mm print was missing BRAIN’s most notorious scene, a shocker where the mutant rips Curt’s arm off and the scientist stumbles about the lab, smearing blood all over the wall. The print also fell apart about a minute from the end, just as the mutant grabbed Evers and prepared to burn the whole damn building down. After going that far with the film, you’d like to see how it all wraps up, eh?

THE BEASTMASTER is another fun film to see with a rowdy but appreciative audience. It offers a lot of action and a good Lee Holdridge score, as well as Tanya Roberts’ bare breasts (remember the PLAYBOY layout she did when the movie came out in 1982?). Everyone has seen this—it was a TBS and TNT perennial for years—it stars Marc Singer (later on V) as Dar, whose village was slaughtered by a Jun horde. Teaming up with an eagle, a black tiger and two cute ferrets, Dar takes on the evil reign of brutal Maax (a hammy performance by Rip Torn). Dar’s ability to communicate with animals comes in handy, and director Don Coscarelli expertly handles the movie’s many action scenes with on-screen assistance from big John Amos (GOOD TIMES) and Roberts as sexy slave girl Kiri.

Last year we saw CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in 3D. This year: its sequel, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, starring John Agar and a brief appearance by Universal-International contract player Clint Eastwood, who plays with some lab rats, leading to a “I know what you’re thinking…did I put three rats in the cage or only two?” comment. The 16mm print was extremely washed out, but the red/blue 3D was surprisingly effective most of the time. REVENGE is a decent movie that at least shows a lot of the creature. The audience didn’t seem to be on hero Agar’s side, particularly in scenes where he “trains” the Gill-Man by repeatedly shocking him with a prod.

Mike Jittlov’s amazing THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME short film always runs just before midnight, just after the raffle. So much swag is given away during the B-Fest raffle that you’re almost guaranteed a prize if you go often enough. In six years, I’ve won something three times: a sleeveless INTOLERABLE CRUELTY T-shirt, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS on VHS, and this year THE SIMPSONS: SEASON 8 on DVD. I traded it to Chicken for his POINT BREAK Special Edition DVD. THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME is always run normally, and then backwards and upside-down while most of the audience lies on their backs on the stage and stomps their feet to the beat. I have no idea why. Instead of explaining Jittlov’s delightful short, I’ll embed the 3-minute video here. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

B-Fest’s midnight perennial is PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which I admit I’m a little tired of by now. I’ve seen it a dozen times, including the last six B-Fests. It’s still fun to throw paper plates in the air whenever one of Ed Wood’s pie-plate flying saucers is on the screen though. But the “Bela”/”Not Bela” and “Day”/”Night” bantering is getting a little old. By the way, that monotonous scene with Lyle Talbot set in his office, which seems like ten dead minutes of expositional filler, has to be the dullest scene in motion picture history.

Ever wanted to see John Ashley in three different shades of skimpy underwear? Look no further than SAVAGE SISTERS, a 1974 cross between blaxploitation and women-in-prison genres. Co-produced by Ashley and directed by Filipino action fave Eddie Romero, SAVAGE SISTERS is a strangely R-rated film, considering it comes close, but shows no nudity whatsoever—doubly odd since co-star Cheri Caffaro had no qualms about doing full-frontal sex scenes in her GINGER movies. The 35mm print looked very good, and contained enough action and silliness to keep everyone awake. It’s not available on DVD, and I’ve only seen it on a cropped but uncut cable TV print, so it was cool to see it on the big screen.

INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES was the first film of the night that I had never seen, although I had waited 30 years to see it after reading about it in Jeff Rovin’s THE PICTORIAL HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION FILMS. It has a lousy reputation, a black-and-white sci-fi slapstick comedy starring unknowns Frankie Ray and Bob Ball, who rip off Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall. Written by frequent Roger Corman supporting player Jonathan Haze and witlessly directed by actor Bruno VeSota (who also appeared in the later B-Fest entry YOUNG REBELS), STAR CREATURES is the worst kind of film: an unfunny comedy. Ray and Ball are GIs who investigate a cave (Bronson Caverns, of course) and find two superhot space chicks named Puna and Tanga. No kidding. One of the worst B-Fest movies I’ve seen in six years. Luckily, I managed to sleep through more than half of it.

I also dozed through much of THE HYPNOTIC EYE, although what I saw looked pretty good. The teaser is quite a shocker—a woman sets her hair on fire (in a nicely rendered visual effect for the time). The climax is memorably violent, and the movie also features an odd gimmick where it tries to hypnotize the audience. I don’t think this one is on DVD, and is unlikely to pop up on TV anytime soon.

Holy crap, why oh why have I gone this long in life without ever seeing STREET TRASH? A wild and bloody horror movie shot in New York by only-time director Jim Muro (inventor of the Steadicam who now works as a cinematographer on big-budget Hollywood movies like OPEN RANGE), STREET TRASH was simultaneously the highlight and the biggest disappointment of B-Fest, disappointing only because I fell asleep just after a homeless guy put a sack over his head and walked through the window of a grocery store. I woke up for a minute to see slow-mo shots of a severed penis flying through the air, and woke up for good near the end to see an exploding hobo. Time to Netflix the Synapse DVD of this untamed masterpiece, which seems like a slightly more tasteful Troma movie. B-Fest's print came from the private collection of writer/producer Roy Frumkus, who wanted to present the film in person but was unable to. A letter from Frumkus was read to us, which claimed that the 35mm print was the first ever struck and that it was used to go to Cannes and other film markets in an effort to find distribution. I don't know what Synapse used for its DVD, but the Frumkus print looks wonderful with bright colors, little scratching and great sound.

On the other hand, the 35mm print of KRULL looked and sounded shoddy, and wasn't helped by the fact that the B-Fest committee spliced some reels together in the wrong order. B-Fest is always hampered by production delays and errors (the prints snap or malfunction all the time), but this was a first. KRULL is pretty bad and is a film I wouldn’t have minded sleeping through. Unfortunately, I was wide awake by this time. I own KRULL on DVD, but have watched it only once. It seems like it should work—a sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a young hero rescuing a beautiful red-headed princess from armored warriors with laser weapons—but it really doesn’t, despite a giant spider.

Speaking of, TARANTULA is all about its giant spider that rampages across the American Southwest. Scientist John Agar teams up with super-scrumptious Mara Corday to stop it. It’s not quite A-level ‘50s sci-fi, but a high B, directed competently by Jack Arnold. Clint Eastwood is also in this Universal-International picture, but is barely recognizable. This played at B-Fest a few years ago, so it wasn’t anything new.

Outside of perhaps STREET TRASH, the 1985 trash Cannon classic INVASION U.S.A. was by far the Fest’s favorite. It’s a lunkheaded and shamelessly jingoistic action movie starring Chuck Norris as a reluctant government agent who stops terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by driving around Florida and shooting the bad guys with his twin holstered Uzis. This is an incredibly stupid film, but Joseph Zito directs briskly, and Chuck is quite badass. See Chuck drive his pickup into a shopping mall. See Chuck tell Richard Lynch not once but twice, “It’s time to die.” Non-stop hilarity that the audience laughed and cheered all the way through. America…fuck yeah!

YOUNG REBELS was the title on this print of Roger Corman’s TEENAGE DOLL. It’s along the lines of Corman’s other youth-oriented dramas of the 1950’s, such as SORORITY GIRL, but I don’t think it stacks up that well. Come to think of it, SORORITY GIRL would have been great at B-Fest. YOUNG REBELS isn’t very memorable, although it does feature Corman regular Richard Devon and stars the lovely June Kenney.

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN was a nice 35mm print, but not a good film. Rick Baker’s gooey makeup effects are fantastic, and the film certainly earned its R rating with lots of close-ups of the title character. Alex Rebar is an astronaut affected by sunspots who returns to Earth and starts melting away. This causes him to shamble around the countryside, ripping off heads and tossing them into the stream. It’s quite slowly paced and the body count is too low. Burr DeBenning has the lead role as Dr. Ted Nelson, who attempts to stop the melting man’s rampage by yelling, “I’m Dr. Ted Nelson!” a lot. His plan definitely doesn’t come together. This one has also been on MST3K, and is probably better seen there.

For the first time, B-Fest went digital to present KING KONG VS. GODZILLA on a non-permanent PC/projector system. The DVD, which I own, looked better, though a lot smaller, than I expected it to on the big screen. B-Fest used to traditionally end with a Japanese monster movie, but vanishing prints have made that difficult in recent years. Going to a DVD format is the best way to get these monster mashes back in the B-Fest lineup on a regular basis. I suspect that next year will probably see even more DVD presentations, which has both its pros and cons. Although I love seeing widescreen 35mm prints of rarities like STREET TRASH and SAVAGE SISTERS, having the flexibility to show DVDs will open up the potential film lineup to many films that are otherwise unavailable.

After 24 hours of crappy movies, our group headed to Leona’s for our traditional Italian dinner. I had a large bowl of penne with meatballs and chicken, along with soup, shrimp scampi and bread. I was bloated afterwards, but pleasantly so, and well-prepared for the 2-hour-plus drive with Chicken back to Champaign. Another successful B-Fest. Tolemite and I are already counting down the days until B-Fest 2008. You can read his account of this year's B-Fest on his blog, and Cheeseburger has her reviews posted over on her blog, so enjoy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"particularly in scenes where he “trains” the Gill-Man by repeatedly shocking him with a prod."

Yeah! I was totally rooting for the Gill-Man when I saw what a jerk the scientist was. "Stop! Stop! STOP!"

I am so jealous that you got to see INVASION U.S.A. on the big screen. I missed it in theaters back in the day. I always love the mall bit where the terrorists are dragging a girl by her hair in a 4X4. All she can muster is, "I hate you! I hate you!"